Baking science and creativity

In 2017, Lillian Clervi took home the trophy for Home Baker – Sourdough, so today we have invited Lillian to the blog to talk more about her love of baking bread and more.

Welcome Lillian, thanks for joining us. We’d love to hear more about yourself?

Thanks for inviting me! I’m originally from Austin, Texas (in the US), and I moved to the UK in 2008. I work in Central London, but live out near the Chiltern Hills of Hertfordshire. After busy work weeks, I tend to spend my weekends unwinding by baking and hiking. I’ve been into baking for as long as I can remember! For me, so much of the enjoyment comes from the process itself; baking is a curious balance of science and creativity. There’s also nothing better than seeing how a simple cake or loaf of bread can create so much joy for other people.

Home Baker Sourdough 2017 - Lillian Clervi

Tell us about your winning loaf in 2017?

I made a seeded loaf, with a mix of toasted sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, and golden linseeds. Toasting the seeds beforehand creates so much extra flavour. As soon as you add the toasted seeds to the dough, everything starts smelling amazing. The seeds themselves, along with some stoneground wholewheat flour, bring fantastic texture to the loaf. A slow, cold final rise in the fridge overnight plays a big part in developing great flavour too.

How did you first get interested in baking bread at home and what do you love about it?

Up until a few years ago, I always focused on sweet things – cakes, cookies, pies, pastries, etc. I still love that kind of baking, but there does eventually come a point where there’s only so much sweet stuff you can have in the house at once. I wanted to start baking something more versatile, that I could enjoy any time of the day, with any meal. Bread seemed like the obvious option! I loved the idea of making something so substantial and satisfying out of so few simple ingredients: just flour, water, salt, and time.

Why sourdough? What is special about it for you?

Sourdough has a real process to it – it’s something that requires precision, practice, and commitment to achieve great results. I started by taking a three day course on sourdough at Bread Ahead in Borough Market. I was hooked after day one, I didn’t want to leave the bakery! Learning all about wild yeast, fermentation, different grains, hydration, digestibility – it was fascinating. After that, I completely threw myself into bread baking.

How often do you bake bread at home?

Every single week! I keep a detailed record of every loaf I bake – flours, hydration levels, temperatures, timings, scoring patterns. Understanding how each of these factors affects the end result of a loaf plays a really important part in helping me achieve consistency over time. A lot of it is trial and error, but that’s part of the fun, right?!

What are your ambitions for your bread baking?

Gosh, I’m still trying to figure that out! I would love to be able to increase my production capacity and start selling bread locally as a side project. A domestic oven obviously makes that a challenge. I would also love to spend some time meeting and working with other more experienced bread bakers. I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface, and there’s still so much more to learn about different types of bread and various techniques. I need a new shelf for all the bread books I’m working through!

To connect with Lillian visit:

Instagram: @dairyaisle

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